A guide dog owner from Derby is appealing for technology companies to save a ‘lifeline’ navigation app, that gives her, and others with sight loss an audio map of their surroundings.
The Microsoft Soundscape app was started in 2018 as part of a Microsoft Research project but is set to be discontinued later this month. The app gives users an audio-description of their surroundings, such as road and shop names, helping people with sight loss understand where they are and make choices on where to go.
Guide dog owner Wend Stain uses the app every day and says she feels extremely worried about the app being discontinued.
I can’t do without the Soundscape app now - I use it every day. My guide dog, Clover, is an amazing guide and helps to keep me safe, but the Soundscape app helps me to understand the area I’m in, what shops are there and what the road names are. Once I got lost and if it hadn’t been for the app, I wouldn’t have got back home. It might sound simple to some people, but to me it’s a vital resource. I have come to be reliant on it and it gives me that confidence.
Guide dog owner Wend
Wend has a sight condition called Coloboma and lost her sight completely in 2003.
Wend added: Like having a guide dog, the app is another tool to make you feel empowered and support your independence. Knowing that the app will stop working in June has left me feeling very apprehensive - I’m worried about my own mobility. I suffer with terrible anxiety when I get lost, and the app helps to prevent that from happening. My confidence has already gone downhill since lockdown, and I am worried it will be completely shattered. I don’t think Microsoft realise the impact they are having.”
A petition to save the app has been started via change.org called ‘don’t let Microsoft take away navigation for the blind'.
One petition signatory said: As a blind person, this has become a hugely important tool in the way that we navigate. We have three visually impaired people in our household. I realise this is only research, but it has just become such an incredible resource for us. Please keep it alive!”
With another adding: This is a lifeline that should be prioritised not stopped.”
Microsoft has released the Soundscape project code as open-source software, so other technology companies can use it.
One of my best friends once said to me that “there is no point getting old if you don’t get clever”, and she was right. But I think what she was really trying to say was, as you get older and things become difficult to do, you find other solutions or coping strategies. Here are my tips for somebody who may have had a recent diagnosis of a visual impairment, and some easy strategies and suggestions to deal with everyday barriers. Most of these strategies involve technology, but of course, some are just simple tips.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day (18 May 2023) launched in 2012 to shine a spotlight on digital accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities. The GAAD Foundation was formed in 2021, celebrating a decade of GAAD. Their mission is to ensure everyone has the same access to and experience of web-based services, content, and other digital products.
Children aged 3-18 with a vision impairment in the UK can now apply for a free device following the scheme's successful pilot last year.